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Private School Vouchers Essay

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Proposals to use private school vouchers, a marketplace strategy, as a mechanism by which to improve the general quality of public education have produced a lively debate. Frequently, that debate has degenerated into a disagreement about whether public schools are as good as private schools or whether a given private school is better than a certain neighborhood public school. Other issues raised in these discussions include the appropriate use of public funds, the role of competition in improving public education, and the right of parents to choose a school for their children. Although these issues are of interest, they are not the fundamental questions which must be raised about the future of public schools in a democracy.Two Core Issues In their rush to the marketplace, the proponents of private school choice supported by public funds have chosen to ignore two core issues. First, the advocates of private school choice studiously avoid any discussion of the relationship between public schools and the common or public good in a democracy.

As an example, the Governor of Wisconsin asserts that "any school that serves the public is a public school" and should therefore receive public funds through a voucher system. There is no recognition in this proposal of the distinct and unique purpose of public education in serving the public good. This rhetorical sleight-of-hand does not mean that a private school of choice becomes a public school in purpose simply by so defining it. The claim is merely a device to divert public funds for private purposes.The failure to recognize that public schools have a central responsibility in a democratic society is further evidenced by the work of John Chubb and Terry Moe, who argue that improving the efficiency and quality of public education will require the replacement of democratic governance by market mechanisms. The authors state, "The most basic cause of ineffective performance among the nation's public schools is their subordination to public authority. ...

The school's most fundamental problems are rooted in the institutions of democratic control by which they are governed".Chubb and Moe deny the historic purposes of public schools when they reject the idea that educational policy should be directed by a common vision or purpose. They assert, "It should be apparent that schools have no immutab...


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...t serve them simply cannot endure and thrive in a climate of economic abandonment. Private school choice is a diversion sponsored by those whose collective economic decisions have made life in our urban community a daily struggle for survival. ReferencesChubb, John E. and Moe, Terry M. Politics, Markets, and America's Schools.

Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1990.Elam, Stanley, M., Rose, Lowell C., and Gallup, Alec M. "The 26th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools." Phi Delta Kappan (September 1994): 41-56.Henig, Jeffrey R. Rethinking School Choice: The Limits of the Market Metaphor. Princeton:Princeton University Press, 1994.Kelly, Elizabeth A. Education, Democracy, and Public Knowledge.

Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995.Kozol, Jonathan. Savage Inequalities. New York: Crown Press, 1991.Plank, David N. and Boyd, William Lowe. "Antipolitics, Education, and Institutional Choice: The Flight From Democracy." American Educational Research Journal (Summer 1994): 263-281.Witte, John. Third Year Report: Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Madison, WI: Robert La Follette Institute of Public Affairs, 1993.


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